Technology Won’t Solve Anything if it’s ‘Parachuted’ in

As featured in The Journal of mHealth

Spurred on by a surge of COVID-19 driven innovation, a new generation of tech tools has landed. Designed to enable intra-organisational collaboration, smart workforce management and remote patient monitoring, these tools are creating a more efficient, impactful and data-driven future for the NHS.

As a doctor and a healthtech innovator, I’m hugely excited by the green shoots of progress emerging from the NHS digitisation drive. However, my enthusiasm is tempered by frustration at the nature of the relationships that some third-party tech providers are establishing, or have historically established, with their NHS customers.

These relationships are more accurately described as one-way transactions: evaporating the very moment the tech is handed over. They are relationships that are unfit for the unique demands of NHS tech roll-outs and they are hindering progress and impact. It’s time for a paradigm shift.

Tech must stop being parachuted in 

In scenarios where these problematic relationships are allowed to play out, the technology – whether that be an app, a data-sharing dashboard or a digital collaboration tool – is developed and then handed over to the end-user by a third party supplier. Thus ends the ‘relationship’. In other words, the technology is parachuted in, and the provider is swiftly extricated from the proceedings.

This state of affairs rarely delivers value for the NHS organisation and its teams.

This is because, firstly, there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ tech solution. New solutions need to be configured to meet the unique demands of each clinician or organisation, a process which can also necessitate post-launch iterations. Only the tech providers themselves have the specialist product knowledge necessary to do this effectively. Despite this, not all seem willing to put in the time upfront to configure their solutions for the specific situation at hand, and then remain engaged and ready to deliver additional services and support when needed.

Secondly, transformational tech solutions are, by their very nature, complex. NHS management teams don’t typically have the bandwidth to oversee implementation or fully induct and train staff, let alone to troubleshoot or re-engineer around potential hurdles.

Expecting them to do this is like a mechanic handing you the new engine for your car and wishing you the best of luck with its installation and maintenance. 

A lack of partnership – the risks  

The failure of certain tech providers to provide adequate roll-out and post-implementation support means that many new initiatives fail or fade out before they have the chance to take root and achieve their full potential.

The resulting delays and backtracking wastes the time, money and effort of all stakeholders. What’s more, it makes NHS teams understandably jaded, and less willing to engage with future digital transformation projects.

In worst case scenarios, poorly implemented tech could cause systems to break down or data to be lost or leaked – causing potentially severe harm to patients.

Tech implementation shouldn’t, and doesn’t, have to happen like this. 

Reimagining the relationship 

In order to achieve the ambitious digital transformation goals of the NHS Long Term Plan, tech companies and the NHS must agree on a set of non-negotiables.

It’s time to push for a paradigm shift to a new normal where healthcare technology providers are knowledgeable, service-oriented, and long-term partners to the NHS. This means that they are fully committed to taking ownership of the implementation and maintenance of their solutions; embedding best practices from day one, and providing the ongoing support needed to ensure end-users achieve their desired outcomes.

Encouragingly, some providers do break the mould. They are setting the benchmark for what a successful public-private partnership looks like. They are investing in the provision of dedicated support staff who are seconded to work alongside the customer’s own transformation teams, making end-to-end, wraparound support their standard. They are aligned with the NHS’s objectives and share their mission to deliver world-leading care.

Now is the time for these isolated examples to become the expected norm. That means  carefully imagining what sustainable, impactful partnerships could look like in the future, and designing a means to make them happen. Ultimately, by setting the bar higher for technology providers, it will become possible for the NHS to convert this decade’s incredible rate of innovation into improved outcomes for patients, staff and employers.